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The 2013 Academic Bowl Championship Series

Auburn University will face off against Florida State University on January 6 for the chance to win its second college football championship in the last four years. The Tigers earned that spot in the Bowl Championship Series partially thanks to an improbable return of a missed Alabama field goal in the waning seconds of the Iron Bowl.

Since the vast majority of these players will never play in the NFL, let alone succeed there, fond memories are not sufficient compensation for so many students who leave with nothing more than a few years of unpaid labor and, potentially, lasting injuries.

Unfortunately, while one play can change the course of a season on the field, such late-game heroics won’t save the large numbers of black Auburn football players who are much less likely to earn a degree than their white counterparts. In fact, Auburn has the second greatest disparity of the BCS ranked teams in graduation rates between its white and black players. The only team that’s worse is its opponent in the title game.

Many elite colleges with rock-star football teams do a terrible job of graduating their players. And since the vast majority of these players will never play in the NFL, let alone succeed there, fond memories are not sufficient compensation for so many students who leave with nothing more than a few years of unpaid labor and, potentially, lasting injuries.

New America ABCS graphic

So what would happen if we ranked teams in the BCS based upon how they did in the classroom, not on the field? That’s what New America’s Education Policy Program does every year when we present our Academic Bowl Championship Series (ABCS). Now in its seventh year, the ABCS ranks schools based on their differences in completion rates between the football team and the school overall, and between black and white players on the team.

Here’s how our formula works: We calculate the difference between the entire football team’s graduation rate versus that of the male students at the university; the graduation gap between black and white students on the team versus the same gap among the school’s overall male population; and the gap between the graduation rate of black football players versus the black males at the school.[1. We use the standard four-class average graduation rate (the rate of one cohort over four years) in our BCS rankings. This rate does not factor in students who transfer out of a college or who leave school to play professionally. We use this rate instead of the NCAA’s own Graduation Success Rate because it allows us to best compare a football team’s graduation rate to the overall graduation rate of students at that college.] We also factor in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate (APR).[2. With NCAA’s calculated APR, teams get points for eligibility (having players who have good enough grades to play sports) and for retention (having players who don’t drop out of college). EdCentral takes the APR into account in our formula, but assigns less weight to it than it does for other measures that we believe are more important.]

We only rank the top 25 BCS teams—thus, the winners of our Academic BCS have displayed prominence both on and off the field. For a full explanation of the formula, click here. For the full breakdown of scoring for this year and past years, click here.

Winners and Losers of the 2013 Academic BCS

Duke takes the top spot in this year’s rankings for the first time since Duke alum Lindsey Luebchow created the original ABCS at New America. The Blue Devils graduated the highest percentage of black football players (82 percent) and the second-highest percentage of all football players (81 percent). In fact, Duke’s black players had a higher graduation rate than all but four other schools’ overallgraduation rates.

But for the second year in a row, Northern Illinois University, in a huge upset, takes the number 2 spot, just inching past Stanford University. To be clear, Stanford graduates a lot more of its football players than Northern Illinois, and it also has higher admissions standards. But our Academic BCS rankings also attempt to measure whether the players are doing at least as well as their peers at the school. That is how NIU pulls off the win. NIU graduates 63 percent of its black players—the fifth highest among the BCS ranked teams. Though 63 percent may not seem that impressive, it’s high relative to its abysmal graduation rate among the overall Northern Illinois black male student population—28 percent. So although Northern Illinois does very poorly by its overall black male student body, it should be congratulated for doing well by its football players. This continues to be one of the few instances that demonstrate how NCAA standards can actually encourage academic success.

The teams competing in the actualBCS title game did not fair quite as well on our rankings. Neither Auburn nor Florida State broke the top 10, and the Seminoles rank third from the bottom (although at least Florida State improved from last year, when it received a negative ABCS score). Only 47 percent of Florida State football players graduated, compared to 71 percent of the overall male student body. More shocking, however, is that while 92 percent of its white football players graduate, only 38 percent of their black players do. That’s a 54 point differential, the highest of all the schools ranked, with the second highest differential coming in at 40 points from Auburn.

That gap is completely unacceptable. Given the potential for lifelong injury without compensation for the players—and the school’s huge revenue gains—the absolute leastthese schools could do is to arm their students with a college degree. It won’t solve every problem with college football, but it’s at least a start for those students after they leave school."